Bhutan, the First Hour

Bhutanese Monks

There’s only one “first hour” when you enter a new world. My first hour of being in Bhutan is one of wonder; the wonder of the Himalayan air, the warm, direct greeting of the people and my first taste of true spring in years. The impression of gentleness came next; gentle people, and the gentle clean vibration in the air. Beauty is the third impression, beauty of nature and the people. We were warmly welcomed in the courtyard of a manor house turned inn where we were staying, by the family who owned this property for dozens of generations. The forsythia, daffodils and camellias were all in full bloom. The view to the south was of a 17th century fortress across a wide valley of just-planted rice fields, with the high Himalayas visible to the north. The sun was warm for early spring, the birds were singing and I was at peace, suddenly, exquisitely, and completely at peace.

With this peace came a quiet joy, almost unnoticed but for the well-being song of my spirit. Across the valley, the sound of monks chanting was carried on a soft breeze, fading in and out of my hearing. I drank this in as I sipped my third cup of Assam tea with steamed milk. How could anything be so right? It’s my third hour in Bhutan, so the mountains are still more of a movie backdrop than real. I know over the next few days, they will become very real, very alive, and they will both create and feed a hunger I can only begin to sense is growing. For now, the breeze is real. I already ache for what I know will mature over the coming weeks.

I want to eat this clean mountain air. The young rice is spring green, fed by manure “made by the cows” for this very purpose, I’m told. It seems to work.

Gyem & Son

Our guide, Gyem Dorje, a tall, handsome man in his mid 30’s, is clearly a man who knows peace and lives inside a world of peace. Being the first Bhutanese we’ve really had contact with, I wonder if this is common, this extraordinary peace. Part of Gyem’s morning hour of meditation is a prayer for the end of suffering for all sentient beings. There is a deeply held belief here that we must all help each other and know (experience) compassion for all other beings. Anger is never the appropriate response to anything here, it seems. Yesterday I was quite upset with a rickshaw driver in Bangkok. The fare he was charging was 10 times the normal rate, but I agreed to it, miscalculating the decimal point. We were both right and wrong, but fighting over it in the hotel lobby caused more damage to everyone around than paying the extra $6. I just couldn’t say I was wrong, though it would have been easier, faster, and more honest, and without the suffering that anger brings.

Bhutan is my mentor. I hope to be an excellent student. My time is too short here.


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Having journeyed to the Far East and Asia over 20 times in the past 20 years, I’ve been intrigued and inspired by the ingenuity, craftsmanship, balance and human spirit that have gone into the making of those works I have seen and collected.

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